Miller not closing the door on Brunk’s return for 2020-21 season

Could the Hoosiers frontcourt rotation add senior Joey Brunk before the end of the season?

Indiana coach Archie Miller wasn’t closing the door Monday during his radio show, saying the 6-foot-11 center has just returned to attending the Hoosiers’ practices following back surgery in late December.

He isn’t practicing, but Miller said Brunk was able to get on the underwater treadmill recently as he starts his rehab.

“There’s no reason to say he’s done for the year, and there’s no reason to say he’ll be back at a certain point,” Miller said.

That’s an understandably ambiguous answer, given Brunk has yet to play this season because of back problems, and rehab from that type of surgery can take a substantial amount of time. In less than two months, IU’s regular season will be over.

But Miller said Brunk will “make a run at it,” which leaves open the possibility of a late-season lift in the frontcourt. For now, the Hoosiers must continue to make do without him.

Brunk’s absence has had its effect. Not only in-game, it’s also been a stress on forwards Race Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis at practice.

“There’s been the grind of mentally coming to work every day and having to saddle up,” Miller said. “I think that’s caught up with us a little bit.”

Jackson-Davis, in particular, has logged a bit too many minutes. He’s at 34 per game, behind only Minnesota’s Marcus Carr (35.6) and Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu (34.6) in the Big Ten. The only other true post player averaging more than 30 minutes per game in the conference is Iowa’s Luka Garza, who logs 30.1 per contest, good for 21st in the league.

Brunk would have been able to siphon some minutes from Jackson-Davis and Thompson, which Miller feels could have been one of the best “three-headed” forward rotations in the league.

“Race is doing a heckuva job for us. Trayce is obviously having a great season,” Miller said. “Both of those guys need Joey, though, as well, for a lot of different reasons. But more importantly, it’s the everyday grind of having another guy in practice and the everyday grind of someone who started (31) games a year ago that’s back and ready to go.

“With Joe, we’re a different team. Without Joe, we are what we are and that’s what we are going to be rolling with.”

Brunk played 19.5 minutes per game last season, averaging 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

IU’s physical fatigue, in Miller’s opinion, has been outpaced by a mental drain. At 8-6, there have been some severe ups and downs in the Hoosiers’ season and not much letup in the schedule. That made the unexpected absence of last Sunday’s game versus Michigan State — called off because of COVID-19 issues with the Spartans — somewhat of a blessing for the Hoosiers. Especially so after a poor defensive performance in IU’s eighth straight loss to Purdue.

“Most teams start to really improve right now,” Miller said. “I think that’s what we need to do because we’re a lot closer to being a really good team than we are a lot closer to just being god awful.”

IU has suffered a myriad of close losses, namely road defeats at Illinois and Wisconsin, the latter in double-overtime and without sophomore guard Armaan Franklin because of an ankle injury. Franklin returned in the loss to Purdue, though Miller admitted IU’s top scoring guard may have to play through his ankle sprain the rest of the season.

Franklin was 6-of-15 from the floor last Thursday, including 0-of-5 from 3-point range.

“He played hard as heck, he attacked, and that’s what we need Armaan to do for our team. We need Armaan to be one of the best guards in the Big Ten on a given night,” Miller said. “He’s going to have to fight through the ankle. It’s going to be sore. But I think, in general, Armaan being back is a bonus.”

IU needs to find more depth, in general, and there are some bodies available in the backcourt. Anthony Leal, who played 34 and 20 minutes, respectively, in the games Franklin missed, logged just four minutes versus Purdue. Miller said Monday there will be more of an emphasis on getting Leal minutes, even with Franklin back.

Al Durham, a senior, is averaging 33.2 minutes per game, just behind Jackson-Davis in that category in the Big Ten.

“Trey (Galloway has) been a part of what we’re doing here in a bigger way than the other three (freshmen). But Anthony’s really emerged,” Miller said. “We have to find a way to continue to get Anthony the opportunities to help us. He can shoot the ball, he’s big, and he plays hard. He’s very smart. … Now that Armaan is back, we have to find a way to rearrange some things to get Anthony more and more opportunities.”

In the frontcourt, there is less the Hoosiers can do, given it’s just Jackson-Davis and Thompson and no Brunk. That’s just slimmed the already razor-thin margins for a more guard-oriented IU lineup, which needs to limit turnovers and play sound perimeter defense.

While the Hoosiers are taking better care of the ball, committing just 9.6 turnovers per game in their last five outings, their defense has waned. In those five games, opponents have hit 47-of-112, or nearly 42 percent, from beyond the arc.

Previously, Miller set a goal for IU to turn the ball over fewer than 10 times per game. Now he’s lowering the bar to no more than eight. Plus, the Hoosiers have to make more free throws. IU has been below 63 percent from the foul line in each of its last three games, including a 16-of-29 effort versus the Boilermakers.

If the Hoosiers can add a healthy Brunk at some point late in the season, that would be a bonus. But they can’t count on it.

“Whether he can help us or not, I don’t know, but we’re not going to shut the door on it at all,” Miller said. “If there’s that opportunity, if he starts to work back to the practice floor at some point, Joe’s smart enough, and knows enough what’s going on, that he can give us a little bit.”

22 comments

  1. Coach Miller sounds like General Custer at the Little Big Horn, that help is coming to save the day. It already Jan. 19th and Brunk is just now getting ready to start some rehab, a medical miracle in the future?

    1. Capt Reno just called. Can’t make it. Suggests turning back. Outnumbered, outflanked. Iowa as a 10 point favorite at Bloomington says volumes about the directions of these 2 programs. 10 likely isn’t reflective of reality, more like 20.
      Watch carefully tonite at the obvious differences of these two teams.

      1. Pretty sure this one is at Carver-Hawkeye. Do your research, Brad. You’ll have the cavalry heading to the wrong town. Maybe bypass stopping at Loyola of Chicago to ascertain Custer’s last whereabouts.

        Indiana 75
        Iowa 73

        1. H4h: I stand corrected. The Fox promo all week had ‘Iowa vs Indiana’. That usually indicates the home team at right. Oh well. It wouldn’t matter if they played in an empty K-Mart parking lot…Hawks 91 IU 63. And no, I’m not the ‘Rock’ for the other inquiry. This game will make IU football even more relevent.

          1. Well, you’re as wrong as a rock.

            For what it’s worth, win or lose tonight, I think this is one hell of a fun Hoosier team. Big positives. Geronimo and Leal…Lots and lots of positives. Race did a fantastic job.

      2. Brad- Did you used to post under the screen name ‘The Rock?’ You remind me a lot of ‘The Rock’….If not, no worries. I just often wonder what happens to people who seemed to be so passionate here and then just vanish.

  2. The real wrench thrown into the season was the transfer of Justin Smith. Smith, Thompson and Davis would have been a stupendous front court. Brunk would have simply been more insurance, physicality…and available hard fouls to give.

    It remains a mystery as to why Smith would leave beautiful Bloomington for Arkansas. It’s classy of Archie to not make excuses because of a transfer, but Smith’s departure basically threw this team under the bus. He was integral to our inside depth…and integral to IU having a much more dynamic and athletic team on the floor.

    A nice tale of “hope” and well wishes for Brunk….Joey may be treading in water for a late season(unlikely) return, but IU is truly fighting against the changing seas due to losing Justin Smith very unexpectedly.

  3. I’m sure it would help the team to have Brunk back healthy, but it’ll be too late to salvage this season. If we’re fortunate, our post season will be limited to playing in the NIT.

  4. It’s sort of sad that Covid has allowed us to lose sportsmanship at the conclusion of games….There’s likely more lessons learned in getting in those congratulatory lines to shake hands, give a pat on the back, or engage in a short embrace at the conclusion of each game (win or lose) than anything done during the previous 40 minutes.

    I miss the fans…(of course) but I also miss all the little things (including the acts of sportsmanship) . As a society, we’ve become very lazy when it comes to simple nods and gestures of acknowledgment to a passer-by or stranger. We’ve become lazy with congratulating and wishing the best to those we only interact briefly.
    They may seem like needless formalities in sports, but without them, I see no reason to play a game.

  5. HFH, it’s the MONEY, games for TV and sports betting, sportsmanship died a long time ago, nothing but the MONEY, it’s the grease to keep the gears working on the sports machines to make the payments to the schools, networks, the sports book companies and other deep pockets involved in sport’s game.

  6. Off-topic a bit (but Hoosier related)….Very strange to see EJ and Oladipo playing major minutes together on the Houston Rockets backcourt. Could be a rather interesting and fun NBA team to watch (now that the prima donna ballhog is gone). Hard to believe EJ has been in the league for over a decade. Time is moving too fast….

    Houston is becoming quite the destination for ex-Hoosiers. Maybe Kelvin Sampson (Head Coach #8 Houston Cougars, 12-1), EJ and Victor will have some nice 3-way dinners together once Covid is over…?

  7. It would be a pleasant surprise to me if IU loses by less than 20. Heck of a team put together by Iowa.

    Anybody catch Ky/Georgia last night. CTC beats Ky again. Of course with Georgia down by 1 with 2 seconds to go. time out taken by CTC – unable to in-bound ball. Second try was fumbled which led to a perfect layup for the win.

    Game was followed by Arkansas & Justin Smith. Big banner hiding a section of empty seats behind team bench advertised …… INDIANA POPCORN

    Good news locally, appears the company running Indiana Lotto will owe the state something like $3 M+. Not meeting the #s of $$$s bet. Going to sports?

    Missing the IU Ladies games.

  8. To an unranked Kentucky team likely Calipari’s weakest in over a decade. They have lost three in a row and lost by 20 to #18 Alabama. Perspective.

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